Athens, Greece

Athens and its stunning Acropolis, as seen from the Athenaeum Intercontinental. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

Athens inspires the imagination. Its recorded history spans 3,400 years and includes some of the earliest hallmarks of Western civilization, like the Acropolis of Athens with its incredible – and iconic – Parthenon.

Our KLM MD-11 to Amsterdam. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Our flights on KLM were efficient, comfortable and even enjoyable. Our aircraft change in Amsterdam Schiphol was remarkably easy, and crews on both planes kept us well-hydrated and well-fed.  North American airlines, which routinely provide little more than pretzels on a domestic flight, could learn a lot from KLM which actually offered up an honest-to-God cheeseburger on our Amsterdam to Athens flight – one which was under three hours, or roughly the same time it takes to fly to Los Angeles from Vancouver.

Transiting Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Heading for Athens from the new Athens International Airport, built for the 2004 Olympic Games. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

I was last here eleven years ago, as part of a high school trip.  Embarrassingly, my knowledge of Greece at the time stemmed from the 1960’s cartoon, The Mighty Hercules.  For an 18-year old who had never been to Europe before, arriving in Athens was complete sensory overload. Seventeen hours of flights and a nine-hour time change all came into focus when I saw the Parthenon lit up at night, high atop the Acropolis, and realized that it represented something so much larger than myself.  How many people had walked these same streets before me?  How many thousands of people over the course of hundreds of generations had seen this same architectural marvel?

That moment changed me forever.

Athens and the Acropolis. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Now I am back in Athens, gazing up at the Acropolis from my room at Athenaeum Athens Intercontinental on Syngoru Avenue.  That moment eleven years ago is not lost on me.  And it feels great to be back.

Bookable as part of Silversea’s pre-and-post-cruise hotel stay package, the Athenaeum Athens Intercontinental is a great base for our time in this historic city.  Newly-renovated, it’s situated near all the major attractions this great city has to offer.  The hotel even runs a complimentary shuttle service to the Plaka district.

Fresh fruit in our Deluxe Suite at the Athens Intercontinental. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Pleasant Dreams. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

After roughly fifteen hours of travel time, not including the drive to the airport in the first place, our Deluxe Suite here is a little slice of heaven.  The bedroom and sitting room are separate from each other, perfect for instances like right now where I’m blogging at 10pm, but my Fiancee is firmly in dreamland.  Greek heritage isn’t overlooked here; the Athenaeum Intercontinental has put a monumental amount of work into sourcing both local and unique works of art for the hotel.

Athenaeum Lobby: Blue Man Group Statue. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

An atrium leads from the lobby to the largest meeting spaces in the country. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Colourful hallways. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

I always firmly believe that a good hotel is key to starting your cruise vacation off right.  After all, who wants to end up at a rubbish hotel?  The fact that Silversea allows guests who wish to book a pre-or-post cruise stay here is a huge convenience, and takes some of the research burden off of the cruisers themselves.

No trip to Athens is complete without a visit to the historic Plaka district, which is where we found ourselves this evening for dinner, joined by friends who are also sailing aboard Silver Spirit tomorrow.

Entering the Plaka district. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

A unique wine and liquor-tasting bar on the Plaka. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

The great thing about the Plaka is that it’s one of the oldest, yet hippest and most-happening places in Athens.  You can’t walk one block without running into a delicious-looking Greek restaurant lined with wooden chairs creating a patio that spills out onto the streets.

Get your tasty treats! Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Shops selling clothing, pottery, silver, olive oil soaps, and tourist souvenirs mingle effortlessly with big brand-name retailers.  The Greeks are endlessly friendly, and each one competes against the other for your attentions as you pass their shop or eatery.  One thing is certain: you’ll never go hungry on the Plaka.

A little Greek dinner, anyone? Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Our eatery for this evening. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

We arrived on the Plaka at about 6pm and the four of us were taken at how incredibly quiet it was.  An hour later, however, the streets were crushed with people from all over the world enjoying themselves in this beautiful city.

A remarkably quiet Plaka district just after 6pm. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

As evening fell in Athens, I remembered how beautiful this city is at night.  It’s as if there are two sides to Athens: day and night, each with their own distinct feeling.  Nighttime in Athens feels relaxed and fun.

Evening falls in Athens, Greece. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

The Athens Athenaeum Intercontinental. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Tomorrow, we head to the port city of Piraeus to board the beautiful Silver Spirit for a seven-day voyage through Italy, Monaco and Spain.  Much like Athens itself, Silversea’s Silver Spirit is a return home for me.  I can’t wait to settle into a plush chair in the Observation Lounge on Deck 11 and enjoy a nice, cold drink while I watch the ocean go by.

Now, as I prepare to go to sleep, I’m suddenly not tired.  I’m not sure what’s more exciting – being here in Athens, in the shadow of the Acropolis, or the knowledge that I get to return to one of my absolute favourite ships tomorrow.

I think it’s both.

Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Come along with us tomorrow as we travel to Piraeus, Greece to embark Silversea’s Silver Spirit and sail off into the warmth of the Mediterranean.

 

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